Cruise writer Lee Beaumann finds out why wine-themed river cruises in Europe are the perfect way to gen up on all things white, red and rosé.
Can there be anything more blissful than gliding gently along one of Europe’s waterways, admiring the scenery on one hand with a fruity white or deep-bodied red in the other?
Rivers in France, Germany, Portugal, Austria and Hungary flow through some of Europe’s top wine-growing areas, making it easy for cruise lines to offer outings to vineyards and wineries and for group organisers to piece together wine-themed cruises.
A few companies do it for you, dedicating whole cruises to the noble grape and bringing experts on board to host tasting, wine dinners and discussions.
AmaWaterways, for instance, has 63 themed departures on rivers across Europe, all accompanied by vintners from US wineries to help enthusiasts brush up on their swirling and sniffing techniques.
It all sounds very high-brow but rest assured no experience is needed – just a love of the wine and a desire to have fun.
The French city of Bordeaux is the start and end point of cruises that combine the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers.
This is the top river cruise for wine devotees as there are tours and tastings in leading regions such as the Médoc, home to famous wine houses including Lafite Rothschild, Latour and Mouton Rothschild, and Sauternes. Tours also visit St Émilion, a pretty town surrounded by acres of vineyards that produce full-bodied reds.
APT has an exclusive wine tasting followed by dinner at the grand Chateau de Ferrand in St Émilion on its eight-day Grand Bordeaux cruises in July, August and September 2019. You’ll also visit a cooperage in the Médoc to learn how barrels are made and be treated to a tour and tasting at the 19th-century Chateau Giscours. Choose the August 29 departure for a food-and-wine cruise hosted by Australian celebrity chef Luke Nguyen.
AmaWaterways has numerous wine-themed cruises with guest vintners on its Bordeaux sailings. Scenic’s eight-day Bordeaux Affair voyage includes tours and tastings at chateaux in the Médoc and Sauternes regions.
Pictured: AmaWaterways offers a variety of wine-themed river cruises.
The Saône River rises in France, runs into the Rhône in Lyon and together they flow south to the Mediterranean, passing vineyards of Syrah, Pinot noir and Chardonnay grapes that produce Côtes du Rhône, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Hermitage wines.
CroisiEurope has two four-night gastronomy and vineyards cruises from Lyon on October 19 and 23, 2019 that offer optional wine tastings in Tain l’Hermitage and Hameau du Vin, a theme park near Mâcon dedicated to all things wine.
It also has a six-day wine-themed cruise from Martigues on the Med coast to Chalon-sur-Saône with wine-tastings in Cassis, an area famous for dry white wines, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Tain l’Hermitage, Meursault and Volnay in Burgundy. Departure is October 10 2019.
Scenic’s South of France cruise has tastings in the Beaujolais region from Mâcon, in Tournon Castle and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Choose Emerald’s eight-day Sensations of Lyon and Provence cruise and you can be wine-tasting and hiking through the vineyards
Avalon Waterways’ wine-themed Burgundy and Provence cruises – there are 12 in 2019 – offer optional tasting sessions in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and St Jean de Losne, as well as an included on-board food-and-wine pairing dinner hosted by a Master of Wine while in Lyon.
Pictured: The Rhine.
Grapes are grown all along the Rhine from Koblenz to the Swiss border, as well as along the Moselle, a scenic tributary. Here the predominant grape variety is Riesling.
Choose a Rhine cruise and chances are there’ll be a tour to Alsace in France where the white grape varieties Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sylvaner, Muscat and Pinot Gris are grown.
Saga has a one-week Rhine and Moselle cruise next year that combines jazz and wine. There’ll be six live jazz sessions on board, a wine-tasting in a vineyard in Traben-Trarbach and optional tours and tastings in Cochem and Boppard. The cruise departs Cologne on July 19, 2019.
Uniworld offers hikes and tastings in the Moselle’s vineyards on its 10-day Magnificent Moselle and Rhine cruises next year, while Emerald Waterways’ eight-day Legends of the Moselle, Rhine and Main cruise includes wine talks and tastings in Würzburg, Koblenz and Bernkastel.
AmaWaterways’ wine-themed Enchanting Rhine cruises features wine-tasting tours to Riquewehr, Strasbourg and Rudesheim, as well as wine-lectures and tastings with a guest vintner.
The Danube flows through one of Austria’s leading wine regions, where Grüner Veltliner grapes produce a white wine that’s usually drunk very young.
Learn all about the grapes and their production by attending on-board tastings and lectures on 29 wine-themed Blue Danube Discovery cruises offered by Avalon Waterways next year.
For a more authentic experience, Viking’s eight-day Danube Waltz cruises offer optional tours to a Huerigen, the local name for a tavern where vintners serve up Grüner Veltliner wine, snacks and traditional music.
AmaWaterways has 11 hosted wine-themed Romantic Danube cruises next year that include Riesling and Grüner Veltliner tastings at Schloss Gobelsburg winery near Krems. Sail with Crystal River Cruises for tours to wine cellars in Vienna and vineyards in Hungary on its 10-night Treasures of the Danube cruises from Vienna.
If the talking, tasting and swirling gets all too much, APT has something very different – a wine-picking tour from Melk on autumn departures of its 15-day Magnificent Danube cruises from Amsterdam to Budapest.
There are two reasons for cruising the Douro in Northern Portugal – first to admire the picturesque scenery (rocky cliffs, charming villages and a patchwork of vineyards) and second to imbibe a glass or four of port, the fortified wine that took its name from Porto, the city at the mouth of the river.
Most river cruise lines offer tastings at quintas, the local name for a traditional winery, and in the port houses in Gaia. These are sometimes free, sometimes an optional extra depending on the cruise line.
Everything is complimentary with APT, and likewise with Scenic, which also includes a tour of the Douro Museum in Régua. Emerald Waterways offers a complimentary port cocktail-making lesson on its eight-day Secrets of the Douro cruise.
Viking’s 10-day River of Gold cruise passengers can sign up for an optional lesson in the art of blending port. CroisiEurope has tours along the Porto wine route and tastings in a wine cellar on selected Douro departures for an extra charge.